Buying Used: Skoda Octavia (2008-13)

Thirty years after this Aussie foray ended, Skoda  came back. By 2008 it was under Volkswagen ownership with a mainstream model very different from the old Octavia.

For a start there was a massive range of variants with turbocharged petrol or diesel engines, in sedan (hatch) or wagon body styles, employing front wheel-drive or 4WD, manual, automatic or Volkswagen's DSG automated manual transmissions.

The Octavia took its basic platform and design cues from the Volkswagen Golf/Jetta and dipped deeply into the VW parts bin for engines and a range of other items. However,

Skoda was still very much an autonomous operation and didn't mind occasionally building better contenders in some segments that its backers in Wolfsburg were doing.

Cars by which Skoda's returning line-up would be judged included the 1.8-litre, turbo-engined Elegance and Ambiente and their 2.0-litre diesel equivalents. Buyers who fancied some performance with an unusual brand name could choose the 147kW RS with its 2.0-litre turbo engine lifted from the Golf GTi. Like other models in the Octavia range, it came as a sedan or station wagon.

Cheapest of Skodas at $29,990 was the Ambiente diesel sedan, while above $37,000 came the Elegance 4x4 and RS Wagons. That said, it was relatively easy to send the on-road cost of an Octavia soaring above $50,000 via some injudicious ticking of the options list. Replacing the standard 15-inch wheels with 17s and Sports Suspension added $2690 to the price of an Ambiente. Leather seat trim with heaters  for the front ones extended the cost by $3K.

Late 2008 brought the diesel-engined Scout to broaden the Octavia range. Looking for all the world like a central European answer to Subaru's Outback, the Scout stood noticeably taller than the basic Octavia wagon on its 17-inch rubber. Under the nose was an aluminium skid plate which combined with roof rails and wheel-arch extensions to maybe fool some owners into believing they were driving a serious off-roader .

The Scout, with standard six-speed manual transmission, came to market for less than $40,000 which included including heated sports seats – leather trim was optional – dual-zone air-conditioning, lots of storage bins and rain-sensing wipers.

The entire Octavia range was packed with airbags and electronics that assisted the driver in maintaining control. However, a lack of impact protection for the driver's legs kept pre-2015 Octavias to a four star ANCAP ranking. Side impact protection based on European tests saw maximum points awarded for chest, abdomen and pelvis.

 

On The Road
The most disappointing aspect of 'owning' a Skoda – even for just the duration of a test-drive – is how few  people give it a second glance.  The shape is different enough to surely warrant a brief stare but attention, let alone admiration, was scant.

Then comes the little issue of size - especially when measured across its slim, trim cabin.  Here the Skoda loses out noticeably to something like a Camry.  On the plus side the four-door's boot is massive, build quality is excellent and every engine in the range appeals to owners of different profiles.

Diesels, as passenger car power units, are falling from favour due to concerns about their environmental effects. The perception hasn't been helped by the Volkswagen Audi Group's very public exposure for cheating on Nitrogen Oxide emissions, and that can translate into keen pricing when looking at recently-made Skodas.

With 1500kg to support even before you start loading it with people and things, the standard 205 Section tyres look a bit on the skimpy side. People who evaluated Octavias as new cars almost universally complained as well that the original-equipment rubber was pretty noisy. When test-driving, try to find some coarse bitumen – typical of rural roads – or concrete freeway joins to make your own judgement. After-market tyres could cure or mitigate the problem..

The electrically-assisted steering isn't perfect, but certainly far from bad. Quick twirling as you avoid a shopping trolley, then a reversing car and make a dive for that spot on the end of a car-park row can generate some inconsistency of feel. However, under normal use, the weight of the steering and response while cushioning the jolt of mid-bend bumps is pretty good.

No complaints at all about the all-disc braking system. European evaluations of the Skoda under conditions far more treacherous than anything in Australia rated the system highly.

The DSG transmission still has its issues but after several years in the market the inherent flaws are at least understood, if not entirely eliminated. DSG when working properly is a quick and less tiring alternative to the manual and more fun than a full auto.

On-the-move responsiveness is very good: Just remember that it can take a while to respond from a standing start and darting in front of fast-moving traffic could be fraught.

Cars with this system must be professionally inspected prior to purchase.

The seats also get generally good reports from owners and are very supportive for long-distance travel. Plentiful adjustment allows drivers to sit high or lay low and vision in all directions is good.

Space in the front – both leg and hip –  is reasonable, but you will suffer if forced to be the middle rear-seat passenger. Load-space in the wagon is fair for its size and the floor covering seems durable. There is a full-sized spare wheel which will please long-distance travellers.

Choosing a diesel engined Skoda might seem the way to save money but owners need to factor in higher servicing costs. The difference in consumption between an oil-burner with its 5.4L/100km and the petrol version that returns about 8.5L/100km isn't that massive.  But remember that the recommended fuel for petrol-engined Skodas is 98 Octane.

Check Points
>> Skoda models with Volkswagen-supplied diesel engines were embroiled in the 'emissions cheat' controversy that surfaced in 2015. This prompted recall notices for affected vehicles so check that any car you consider has been updated to comply with emission standards.
>> The DSG transmission has been controversial ever since introduced by Volkswagen.  Reported problems from Skoda owners include slow throttle response when starting from rest,  'shunting'  when accelerating, harsh down-shifts and slowness or failure to engage reverse.
>> Diesels require replacement of timing belts and the water pump at 100-130,000 kilometres and major repairs such as this aren't cheap. If the service history shows a belt change is imminent, make allowances when negotiating the price.
>> Clutch shudder can manifest in cars that have done just 50,000 kilometres and labour to replace the unit is costly.
>> Skoda suspension is durable but won't last forever. Turn the wheel rapidly from lock-to-lock when moving slowly, feeling for loss of assistance and groaning noises. Clicking sounds in tight turns, cracking sounds as the wheels encounter potholes and tyres that are edge-worn are warnings of repairs required.

 

Used Vehicle Grading
Design & Function: 14/20
Safety: 12/20
Practicality: 15/20
Value for Money: 15/20
Wow Factor: 10/20 (Ambiente)
SCORE: 66/100

Also Consider: Subaru Liberty 3.0R, Honda Accord Euro, Peugeot 508